Winning the internet, all of it

It’s not often, lately anyway, that we read a story that makes us want to fistbump the whole interwebs and shout, “Fuck yeah humans!”

Butthis is one of those stories.

Video-game players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases.

“This is one small piece of the puzzle in being able to help with AIDS,” Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, told me. Khatib is the lead author of a research paper on the project, published today byNature Structural & Molecular Biology.

The feat, which was accomplished using acollaborative online game called Foldit, is also one giant leap for citizen science — a burgeoning field that enlists Internet users tolook for alien planets, decipher ancient texts anddo other scientific tasks that sheer computer power can’t accomplish as easily.

“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at,” Seth Cooper, a UW computer scientist who is Foldit’s lead designer and developer, explained in a news release. “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans.”


3 thoughts on “Winning the internet, all of it

  1. Of course, there is a marvelous potential for distributed groups willing to work hard in collaborative projects. I remember when SETI came up with the plan to use computers’ idle time to crunch data (before the inevitable potential for security breeches became an issue).
    But I’m also bothered that from an academic standpoint there are already administrators saying that we can do with less researchers because the internet will do it for us. Not to mention that there have to be folks sitting around willing to work hard and have no opportunity to get credit for their work – not even resume fodder.

  2. I’m a research administrator so I get that part too, Maple. It’s my experience that very few outside people understand the research process, yet lots of them feel they can make a judgment about it.

  3. For a while I had a screen saver similar to the SETI project — it would analyze protein molecules for some kind of cancer research, and periodically download/upload data, I forget exactly where now. But yeah, the raw analysis must have been further checked by people with specialized training…
    Anyway, to tangent off a bit, but hopefully not too far, I’ve occasionally wondered about victims of especially war, and what they might have accomplished or otherwise contributed had they lived. Maybe nothing at all, but who knows, maybe something extraordinary…

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